Internships: Not Just for Kids

By Guest Contributor

December 11, 2012

For most people, the word “internship” conjures images of a flustered college student, juggling a handful of coffee cups and fighting with a copier. In the past, the term intern may have been synonymous with indentured servant, but today internships are far more structured and far more beneficial to those who want to build their resumes and get an insider’s look at their chosen industry.

One growing segment of the student population is taking advantage of internship opportunities more than ever before: adult graduate students. Adults who return to school for master of public health programs, business programs, and education or nursing are flocking to internships to gain real-world experience in their fields.

Why Adults Become Interns

In some cases, graduate students are required to complete internships as part of their master’s program, especially if they do not have a professional background in their area of study. Internships provide the opportunity for students to apply their new knowledge and skills to real-life situations, as well as build a network of contacts that could prove useful in their careers.

Not all adult interns are students, though. In some cases, professionals who have lost their jobs opt to take unpaid internships as a way to build experience in a new industry or to avoid having a gap in their employment history.

Issues for Adult Interns

Regardless of the reason an experienced professional decides to accept an unpaid internship, older interns face certain issues that younger apprentices may not face. For example:

  • “I Already Know How to Do That.” For experienced professionals, there are certain tasks or concepts that transcend the field or job type. However, when someone has several years of experience working, it’s easy for him or her to fall into the trap of becoming a know-it-all and failing to see the educational value in the tasks he or she is asked to complete. Adult interns need to be open to new knowledge, instruction and training — and have the ability to recognize when they should put their past experience behind them.
  • “This Is a Whole New World.” For those who have returned to school after being out of the workforce for some time, such as stay-at-home mothers who enroll in human services degree programs, the advances in technology and methods of working might be intimidating. In the past few years, for example, social media have become increasingly popular as business marketing and communications tools, and older interns may not always be comfortable using them. An internship is the ideal time to become familiar with such changes, though — and when a prospective employer asks about an applicant’s skills in those areas, she can answer with confidence.
  • “I’m Older Than My Boss.” Adults who work as interns, particularly in technology-based firms, might discover that they’re significantly older than their supervisor and co-workers. Although this might feel uncomfortable, it can actually be a benefit. Older interns can learn from their younger colleagues and build skills in working with a multigenerational team.
  • “People Think I’m Weird.” Because interns are traditionally younger college students, when an older, experienced intern joins the team, some might wonder why and make unfair assumptions about that person. Adult interns should be upfront about their reasons for interning, whether it’s because they are building experience as part of a degree program or simply testing the waters to determine whether a career change is a good choice before paying for education and training. Maintaining a good attitude and remaining open to learning opportunities are the most important parts of a successful internship at any age, so remain an example for the other workers and interns. If you’re truly uncomfortable, remember that internships are generally short-term, and you can move on to new opportunities in a few months.

Internships are an important part of any educational program — even for those who have several years of work experience. Interning as an adult does have its challenges, but as with many things in life, facing those challenges brings significant rewards. Don’t let your age or level of experience deter you from interning, take the opportunities as they are presented and get your new career on the right track.

Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons

Darla van Simon holds a master’s degree in human services and currently manages a community career counseling center. She has successfully helped develop several internship programs for older workers with major companies in her area.

One thought on “Internships: Not Just for Kids

  1. Alfred on said:

    That’s so interesting. I was under the impression interns were typically, well, kids and people right out of college.

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